No team in the West has better personnel to better match the Lakers than the Mavs. If you want perimeter defenders with length, Dallas has Shawn Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois, and DeShawn Stevenson. If you want bigs to match up with Pau Gasol and possibly Andrew Bynum, Dallas has Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier. If you want a scorer that can go toe-to-toe with Kobe, Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs have a far deeper bench, just as many scoring options, a point guard that isn’t a waste of space, and should they meet the Lakers in the Conference Finals, surely some momentum on their side as well.
Getting to that point is going to be tricky, and making the transition from tough match-up on paper to a real threat even trickier. If any team in the West can do it though, it’s the Mavs.
If you’ve seen the impact of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd this season,
you know the offense will be there. The difference-maker — and the
thing that could take the Mavs all the way to the NBA championship —
will be their ability to defend.
A huge part of that is Shawn Marion’s defense against Kobe Bryant, which is absolutely critical for the Mavs to make it to the NBA Finals. Marion will need to continue sharpening his defensive abilities in the earlier rounds against some brutal competition, but the endgame is easy: stop Kobe, and (probably) then after that, stop LeBron. It’s not a one-man job and Marion would and should have help, but the Mavs’ defense against those two stars begins with Shawn.
Perhaps just as crucial, though, will be the play of Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier. Together, the two have the potential to be the most effective defensive center tandem in the league. Haywood is one of the best post defenders in the league, and Dampier is criminally underrated on that front. If those two can play the type of defense they’re capable of playing (which includes not only good on-ball post D, but supplying superior weak side help, and rebounding well), Dallas would have an easier waltz to the Finals than you’d think. It’s just about translating that potential into reality, or really, executing defensively more consistently than they have over the last two months.
The Mavs are on a bit of an upswing right now, and their point differential over their last five games is +13.6. Four of their last five opponents were held to under 100 points, and three of those five under 90 points. It really feels like Dallas could be on the verge of something great if the defensive execution could just stick around for a spell.
Plus, despite the unfounded claims against Dirk’s ability to perform in the clutch, his “softness,” or inability to perform in the playoffs, Nowitzki is as good of a postseason player as we have in the league. Last year he posted a 28.4 PER and earned .284 win share per 48 minutes in 10 games against the Spurs and Nuggets. Those numbers are just a few ticks under LeBron James’ this season, and while Nowitzki may not be able to keep up with some of the league’s other superstars on the defensive end, he’s still an offensive juggernaut.
So many things are on Dallas’ side that it’s ridiculous. Coaching? Rick Carlisle is one of the best in the game, and his ability to adjust in-game and in-series is top-notch. ‘Veteran savvy?’ Dallas is one of the most experienced teams in the league. Clutch play? The Mavs have been dominant in close games this season, relying on the stability of their late-game execution to win the day. Home-court advantage throughout at least half of the playoffs? Check. Leadership? Double-check.
The Mavs are confident and ready to roll, and with the the added rest and preparation time the playoffs afford, no one should be too surprised if they’re hoisting up a trophy in a few months’ time.